Foundational discoveries for
Foundational discoveries for
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Storage Grand Challenge is to develop and domestically manufacture the technologies that can meet all U.S. market demands for energy storage by 2030. The end goal starts with science.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) seeks a fundamental understanding of how energy storage materials work under real operating conditions as the foundation for the discovery and development of next-generation energy storage systems.
PNNL’s energy storage capabilities are focused on accelerating discovery and understanding materials and chemistries that can catalyze new energy storage technologies. At the foundational level, our researchers investigate different energy storage chemistries while improving existing and future battery technologies for a resilient and decarbonized power grid, electric vehicles, and a clean energy future.
For now, battery technology is still too expensive for widespread deployment, and performance—including capacity, longevity, safety, and reliability—needs to improve. There are also critical supply chain issues with certain battery materials. PNNL is tackling those challenges today by drilling down to the root-level issues with batteries and other forms of energy storage and seeking new materials to broaden the supply chain. Researchers expect the cost of lithium-ion batteries to decrease over the next 10 years.
Scientific tools to visualize materials' behaviors in a working system
By combining data analytics with materials discovery, synthesis, and characterization, our scientists are accelerating the next generation of energy storage materials. We are developing the tools we need to understand new materials, reactions, and systems related to energy storage in a functioning device. We are pioneering new in operando techniques to “see” chemical and electrochemical reactions, live, while they are taking place at the atomic level. Specialized equipment for in operando microscopy enables us to understand interfacial reactions of battery materials while they are operating. The direct observations of the materials and their interfacial reactions in a “living” battery deepen our fundamental understanding of why it does or doesn’t work, allowing our scientists to re-design materials and the materials’ structures for better batteries.
Energy storage is by nature dynamic, and so is our research. PNNL has a track record of developing innovative electrolytes, liquid or solid, for a wide variety of applications. Some of the new electrolytes stabilize lithium-metal anodes, while others enable fast charging or push the cell’s voltage higher to store more energy.
Fundamental science underpins every improved design we study, but our researchers keep the end goal in mind. We consider not only the cost of new raw materials but the cost of processing them into working systems as well, so that new discoveries that work in the lab are economically viable in the real world.
At PNNL, we work on a wide variety of energy storage technologies beyond batteries—including chemical energy storage that uses hydrogen, for example. Hydrogen is an efficient energy carrier. We are working at the molecular level to find better ways to interconnect hydrogen and energy storage technologies such as fuel cells. Energy stored in a fuel cell can power vehicles or the electric grid. At the fundamental level, we are evaluating how hydrogen affects storage materials and working on more efficient conversion of electrical energy to hydrogen and back again.
Advancing energy storage through collaboration
As some of the most highly cited battery researchers in the world, PNNL scientists lead and team with large, collaborative, multi-institutional energy storage research programs.
PNNL leads the Battery500 Consortium, a national effort to double the energy stored in state-of-the-art Li-ion batteries for vehicles. Battery500 addresses the fundamental challenges to enable lithium-metal batteries and has made significant strides toward increasing the energy density and extending the life of the batteries.
PNNL is one of four other national laboratories collaborating in the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE’s) Joint Center for Energy Storage Research to reduce barriers like high costs and limited storage capacity to provide more cost-effective power for both electric vehicles and grid customers.
Located at PNNL, DOE’s Integrated Institute for Catalysis explores and develops the chemistry and technology for processes that use catalysts to move toward a carbon-neutral future by storing energy in fuels.
PNNL also leads the Center for Molecular Electrocatalysis, a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center that seeks to transform our ability to design electrocatalysts that convert electrical energy into the chemical bonds of fuels or convert fuels to electricity. Our researchers seek to understand, predict, and control the flow of protons in catalytic reactions that advance energy storage.
PNNL is investing in its Chemical Dynamics Initiative to better predict and understand how complex chemical systems—like energy storage devices—evolve with time in response to their environment. Through this initiative, we are bringing tunneling electron microscopy and scanning electron microscopy to bear on visualizing energy storage materials and processes.
PNNL’s Energy Storage Materials Initiative is finding ways to accelerate the design of energy storage systems. There are millions of potential chemistry and materials combinations that could accelerate next-generation energy storage. At PNNL, we are rapidly identifying promising materials by using high-throughput systems to screen large data sets. This type of experimentation helps PNNL scientists do in a day what used to take weeks or months. And we use physics-informed data-based models and machine learning that integrate experimentation and modeling across scales—from the atomic scale to large-scale testing.
“Digital twins”—batteries in two worlds
The Energy Storage Materials Initiative is pioneering an innovative “digital twin” approach that could radically redefine the research and development process for energy storage materials. A digital twin is a digital replica of a physical battery. Data from simulated or actual experiments can be seamlessly exchanged between the physical and digital worlds. With a digital twin, researchers can integrate data at different scales, enabling them to quickly scale-up a very tiny battery to larger, commercially relevant sizes far more efficiently.
Science that will accelerate energy storage takes place at PNNL in dedicated laboratories that are ideally suited to the needs of fundamental discovery.
At the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, researchers use an environmental transmission electron microscope to evaluate battery structure and function materials, while a scanning transmission electron microscope allows probing of the materials’ microstructure and chemical compositions.
The High Throughput Materials Research Laboratory employs robotic tools to rapidly identify promising electrolyte materials for energy storage. The system is used for synthesis and sample preparation to study large groups of materials. The tools combine machine learning and small-scale testing to find the needle-in-a-haystack material combinations that may be developed into more efficient energy storage systems.
The Advanced Battery Facility serves as the canvas for bridging the scientific gap between materials science and realistic battery applications. It helps scientists quickly implement new ideas into prototype batteries to accelerate research innovation at industry-relevant scales.
The Energy Sciences Center, opening soon on the PNNL campus, will co-locate researchers with specific capabilities in chemistry, materials, and computing to accelerate research in energy sciences toward sustainable energy solutions, including cheaper, safer, and higher-performing energy storage materials.
Passionate people equal powerful science
At PNNL, our distinctive facilities and the synergy between chemistry, materials, computing, catalysis, and other disciplines are powerful forces for scientific discovery. Our people are passionate about energy storage and the vital part that it will play in our energy future. We are determined to create more cost-effective, more reliable, and longer lasting batteries for the grid and vehicles.